With London house prices stabilising, more buyers are taking advantage of the value gap between the city and country and buying a second home finds Arabella Youens
When four-bedroom Flintham Cottage in Oaksey, north Wiltshire, went on the market with the Cirencester office of Knight Frank (01285 659771) just two weeks ago, it quickly notched up 27 viewing appointments made by eager buyers. The secret to its popularity?
‘It ticks many boxes,’ explains Alice White, who is handling the sale and has already received offers above its £875,000 guide price. The Cotswold-stone cottage stands on the edge of a popular village, which has a shop/post office, a good pub and a primary school. It’s in excellent condition and has a large kitchen/breakfast room with an Aga and a garden of one-and-a-half acres.
‘We’ve had interest from couples who are retiring and looking to downsize and from families attracted by the good schools in the area, but the bulk of interest has been from London-based families looking for a weekend home in the countryside. That market is definitely back in business,’ says Alice.
David Carter of Savills in Guildford (01483 796827) agrees. ‘Over the past 18 months, we’ve seen the return of the weekend-home buyer in West Sussex and the countryside surrounding the Surrey Hills, with the number of active requirements for second homes probably doubling.
‘Budgets usually start at about £800,000 and the must-have element is a quiet and rural location that is accessible relatively easily from London.’ He believes that the rise of interest from these buyers has been fuelled by the increase in London prices, which has allowed some owners to take money out of their main residence to buy the weekend idyll. ‘Anywhere that needs work is usually off the agenda,’ explains David, ‘because these buyers want easy retreats that they can start using immediately.’
Low maintenance is another key concern for a weekend cottage. ‘The term “lock up and leave” is more often associated with city-centre apartments,’ says Mark Wheeler of Hamptons International (01483 572864). ‘But there are definitely country houses that are locked up and left on a weekly basis and, for this reason, security and low maintenance are paramount. Weekend-house buyers want their property to be well-positioned and secure and to not require much upkeep, so it can be enjoyed after a long week at work.’
Another sector of the weekend home market proving popular with buyers is coastal properties. Nick Evans of Humberts says that most of the enquiries he receives for second homes in Somerset and Dorset come with a list of three top ingredients: a sea view, access to good restaurants and contemporary rather than traditional architecture. ‘More and more people are deciding to take “staycation” breaks,’ says Jeremy Campbell-Harris, who heads up the Humberts country-house department (020–7594 4746). ‘Buyers are looking for somewhere to host friends and family and a place to escape to, where they can forget about the stresses that come with living in the city.’
For most weekend buyers, location is the number one concern, with agents saying that two hours from London is about as far as anyone wants to go on a Friday night. ‘West Surrey, Buckinghamshire and Hampshire are among the most popular locations,’ says Mark. ‘Sussex and Kent have seen less activity, but offer greater value for money.’